Seated on the steps of a labour accommodation in Sharjah’s Industrial Area, blue-collar workers Rajesh and Deb look gloomy and despondent. It’s been a couple of weeks since pandemic-related uncertainties upended their lives and jobs and suddenly their future doesn’t look all that rosy.
Surviving on their paltry savings and hoping for better times to come soon, the duo are among scores of people in their accommodation who have all but given up hope of being able to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, that’s coming up next week. Sullen and downcast, they stare down the road as though awaiting a miracle to come by... and soon it does.
Even as they watch a swirl of dust that seems to be racing towards them, their faces begin to light up. A hesitant smile forms on their lips and they stand up to get a better view. A moment later they see it’s a van racing towards them and they shout out to their companions inside to come out.
Their spirits up, they know it is Hussain Nalwala in the van bringing packets of delicious food and goodie bags for them.
They are not disappointed.
When the truck pulls up, an elderly, avuncular gentleman steps out, gets some helpers to open the packages in the rear of the truck and quickly begins to distribute packets of food for the workers.
This is not the first time the workers are benefitting from the largesse of the man. And this time they are in for another special surprise. Apart from food and food stuffs, each worker also walks away with a special Diwali gift hamper filled with sweets, packets of juices, smart caps, t-shirts and more.
The man behind this benevolent initiative is Hussain Ahmedali Nalwala. President of the Anchor Allied Factory in Sharjah, for the past two years the 74-year-old has been supplying food to 15 workers’ accommodations across Dubai and Sharjah.
"This year has been a terrible year for everyone around the world," he says. "Thousands of blue-collar workers have no means to celebrate Diwali, which is an important festival for Indians. So this time, we decided to give them a small hamper along with the food hoping it would bring a little smile on their faces."
"The sweets remind me of Diwali back home," says Indian expat Rajendra Prasad. As for Deb from Bangladesh, he is happy to get something "new to wear after a long time".
Every Friday, Hussain distributes around 200 packets of cooked food in different localities where the blue-collar workers reside. "We started with the Dubai Fruit and Vegetable market area, but later we came to know that there were many such accommodations where workers were looking forward to enjoying a good meal," he says.
Realising how Covid-19 has played havoc with the lives of thousands of people, Husaain has stepped up distributing essential food kits that would last a family for 30 to 45 days. "It was extremely moving for me to listen to their stories of pain and suffering; some of them told me that they and their children often slept without food," says Hussain. "So I felt I should do the best I could to ensure they all had food and some goodies particularly during Diwali."
Pakistani expat Dawood who is between jobs at the moment knows the value of food and the occasional gifts only too well.
"The sight of the van which comes almost every Friday lifts our spirits," he says, gratefully.
Apart from requests for food, Hussain mentions that he also gets requests to pay rent, electricity bills, school fees and medical bills. "I try to do all I can to help them," he says.
Recently, during the repatriation of workers, he bought tickets for 47 people who could not afford to purchase tickets to fly back home. "Some of them were in dire straits. When I handed them the tickets, they held it in their hands and cried uncontrollably. They couldn’t believe they would actually get to see their families gain," recalls Hussain.
Apart from doing philanthropic acts on his own, Hussain is also connected with three charities in India where they distribute home kits, sewing machines and provide medical help for the needy. Since the last four months, the charities have also been sending food to Sion Hospital in Mumbai for the families of patients who are in the hospital. They have also helped to install 10 community fridges in different parts of Mumbai.
Rising to the challenge
Hussain began life in the UAE way back in 1995 setting up a small unit manufacturing packing tapes. That though was not his initial dream.
Growing up in India’s commercial and film capital of Mumbai, Hussain was a happy-go-lucky guy hoping to enter the film industry. But the loss of his father when he was 21 forced him to take over the family business.
Since 1979 he used to visit the UAE regularly to book orders for his products, which included hoses and pipes. During one such visit in 1984, he had a dispute with one of his customers who challenged him to set up shop in Dubai. "That was a major turning point in my life. I took up the challenge and opened our first office in Deira the very same year," he says.
In 1994, his son Ahmedali joined him after his graduation and realised that they could cater to their clients better if they had their own manufacturing unit in Dubai. The first factory was set up in 1995 in a rented warehouse.
Today, the company Anchor Allied is one of the largest manufacturers of sealants, sprays and allied products in the Middle East, with presence in the Far East, Southeast Asia, Africa, the CIS countries, Latin and South America and Europe as well.
With five factories in Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman, he attributes his success to giving the right product at the right price and maintaining strong customer relationships. "Basically I am a very focused man," says Hussain. "If I decide to do something, I don’t leave it midway. I believe that there is nothing that a person can’t do if he puts his mind to it."
Since the last six months, Husain has handed over the reins of the company to his son and is enjoying a much-deserved retired life with his wife Nafisa and grandchildren Mazahir and Hamza.
A keen photographer, since childhood he used to experiment with his box camera. But his hobby had to take a backseat due to the demands of the business. Now, with time in his hands, Hussain has revived his old interest.
In 2019 he became the Grand Master of Photography (GMPSA) from the Photographic Society of America. "I am the only Grand Master so far in the GCC," he beams proudly. "My favourite subject is wildlife and landscape." He’s won over 250 awards from various contests. He also had a solo exhibition of his images at the prestigious Jahangir Art Gallery in Mumbai.
Hussain is presently working on creating a list of residents at the Sharjah Industrial Area and liaising with consulates and the authorities to help repatriate them.
When not busy in philanthropic activities he can be seen processing and sorting more than 50,000 images he has shot. He also likes to read about other renowned photographers. "The only time I give photography a break is when my grandchildren come to play with me," he says.